Pirates strike again

MOMBASA - Undeterred by US and French hostage rescuers that killed seven bandits, Somali pirates brazenly hijacked three more ships in the Gulf of Aden, the key waterway that's become the focal point of the world's fight against piracy.

MOMBASA - Undeterred by US and French hostage rescuers that killed seven bandits, Somali pirates brazenly hijacked three more ships in the Gulf of Aden, the key waterway that's become the focal point of the world's fight against piracy.

The latest trophy for the pirates was the MV Irene EM, a Greek-managed bulk carrier sailing from the Middle East to South Asia, said Noel Choong, who heads the International Maritime Bureau's piracy reporting centre in Kuala Lumpur.

US Navy Lieutenant Nathan Christensen of the Bahrain-based 5th Fleet said the Irene was flagged in the Caribbean island nation of St Vincent and the Grenadines last night and carried 23 Filipino crew.

A maritime security contractor, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the ship put out a distress signal "to say they had a suspicious vessel approaching".

"They tried to call in support on the emergency channels, but they never got any response," the contractor said.

On Monday, Somali pirates also seized two Egyptian fishing boats in the Gulf of Aden off Somalia's northern coast, according to Egypt's foreign ministry, which said there were 18 to 24 Egyptians on board at the time.

Choong said pirate attacks this year had risen to 77, with 18 of those ships hijacked and 16 vessels with 285 crew still remaining in pirates' hands. Each boat carries the potential of million dollar ransom.

The latest seizures come after Navy Seal snipers rescued American ship captain Richard Phillips on Sunday by killing three young pirates who held him captive in a drifting lifeboat for five days.

A fourth pirate surrendered after seeking medical attention for a wound he received in trying to take over Phillips' vessel, the Maersk Alabama.

In Washington, President Barack Obama said on Monday: "I want to be very clear that we are resolved to halt the rise of piracy in that region and to achieve that goal, we're going to have to continue to work with our partners to prevent future attacks." - Sapa-AP

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